ToTurT of NoTrthern Corsica
Tour of Northern Corsica
Bastia – Feliceto – Porto – Corte - Bastia
Having got soaked in the Alps in near freezing temperatures in 2014, I thought it a good idea to go somewhere warm and sunny. Corsica turned out to be an inspired choice. Not only did the weather live up to expectation, the island surpassed all other places I have visited as the most beautiful area I have toured in. I would alter nothing about the itinerary. My thanks go to Mark, the Corsican Cyclist, who not only provides some great suggested rides on his website but was also kind enough to email me suggestions.
Arrival in Bastia
There is only one flight a week from Manchester and that at the inconvenient time of 7.15 in the morning. Arriving at Bastia airport at 11, I got a taxi to take me to town, which cost about 65 euro – pretty expensive for the distance. I was staying at Hotel Voyageurs, who allowed me to drop off all my luggage but not to check in until 2pm.
It gave me the chance to have my first wander around Bastia, which combines a working town feel with some beautiful areas and lots of great bars and restaurants. I went up the Citadelle, which has great views of the town, and had lunch there in the square, eating the first of a lot of charcuterie. Having rebuilt the bike, I spent the evening around the Vieux Port, eating in Lavezzi, which had a lovely view of the harbour. There was a musical festival on and it seemed that every corner had a performer. I ended the night just by my hotel listening to a group of three, singing Corsican folk songs to a local audience. Armed with a glass of rose, it was an indication of great things to come.
Day1 - A shortened Cap de Corse – 101km – 1390 ascent
I was staying the first two nights in Bastia, which allowed me to do the round trip of the Cap Corse without carrying luggage on my first day. With six days of riding in store and very high temperatures, I decided to not go all the way to the top of the Cap but take a route which lopped off about thirty kilometers. It was by no means a hard ride, however, so it would be perfectly feasible to do the whole thing.
The first 10km out of Bastia was fairly busy with traffic but beyond Erbalunga it thins out. It’s an easy ride with good views of the coast. I turned inland at Santa Severa towards Luri, climbing 350m on a gentle incline. The view of the western coast from the top was fantastic. Rather than descend all the way to the coast, I took the D33, just before Pino, which serves as an alternative high level route, running parallel. It’s a lovely, undulating road. Joining the main D80 road near Canelle, I rode on to Nonza. I carried my bike up to the tower at the top of the village, where there is a very beautiful bar. The menu looked a little heavy for me that day, so I had a snack instead at a café by the side of the road down in the village.
A further 10kms on from Nonza, the road turns in land again, providing the stiffest test of the day. It’s a 12km climb rising over 500m, which is gentle enough but in the afternoon it was very hot, so it was a bit uncomfortable. The D80 joins the D81 and takes you through Patrimonio, with lots of signs for wineries along the way. The view from pass of Bastia is great. From there it was a quick descent to the hotel.
In the evening I went back up to Citadella to eat. I ate at Caserelle, which has wonderful views but was a little disappointing. I had a drink in the Place Fontaine Neuve which has three great bars and lovely atmosphere.
Day 2 – Bastia to Feliceto
Rack and panniers on, I retraced the last part of the previous day, climbing up 11kms to the Col de Teghime, meeting a couple of other British cyclists at the top. From there it is an easy descent all the way to Saint Florent, which has a pretty harbour, where I stopped for a fresh orange juice. The views back towards Saint Florent from the following climb are particularly good. Although the climb goes on for 20km, it isn’t hard, and is very gradual after the initial 5km. The road joins the main N197 after the descent to the coast but it wasn’t that busy. I stopped after 60km at a basic café serving sandwiches and drinks with spectacular views over the coast.
I turned inland at Losari on the N197 towards Belgodere. It’s a 300m climb over 8kms but it was ferociously hot, so took its toll. I stopped for an ice cream in Belgodere at one of cafes in the village. Having cooled down, it was a flat ride all the way to Feliceto, with the road cut into the side of the mountain connecting picturesque villages.
Feliceto is a small village with not a lot going on but I found it a lovely place to say. The Mare e Monti hotel was the nicest hotel I stayed in during the trip. A well restored property, I had beautiful room. The manager was very friendly and helpful. After a very hot ride, a swim in the pool was a great bonus too. In the evening a separate restaurant opens poolside, with superb views. Given that it’s the only proper place to eat, it was pretty decent food and not unreasonable. There is a local bar for bit of a variation.
Day 3 – Feliceto to Porto
The road out of Feliceto continues for another 9kms at the altitude of 350m, before descending to Calvi. When it joined the N197 it became quite busy but as it is a descent, the distance is quite quickly covered. Having not expended any energy, I didn’t pause in Calvi but continued on. The first 15kms of the ride to Galeria was one of the highlights of the trip. It’s a spectacular road. I stopped at a bar called U Nicharetu, which is beautifully situated and stocked up on drinks, as there aren’t many places to stop.
The road becomes rougher as you go on but on 28mm tyres, carrying panniers, I didn’t have any anxious moments. Close to Galeria, the improved road crosses a bridge and there are a couple of hotels and cafes. I stopped for a sandwich before ascending the 11km climb to the Bocca di Palmarella. It’s a gentle gradient but it was tough in the heat. Moving back towards the coast, there are some stunning stretches as the road approaches Porto.
Porto itself is a rather mixed experience. It is fabulously situated, surrounded by incredible rock formations. Most of the buildings, however, are pretty functional and lack charm. I stayed at the Hotel Mediterraneo, which was a case in point. It was a perfectly adequate, clean room, with a great view and swimming pool but the hotel itself was a bit ugly. I ate that night at Le Sud, which has a wonderful terrace.
Day 4 – Porto Roundtrip – 98km – 2065m ascent
The ride out of Porto up to Piana was another highlight of the trip. It’s an 11km climb which goes through remarkable rock formations, called the Collonges. The tourists who had been let out of their coaches to take photographs seemed a bit surprised to see a cyclist up there.
I passed directly through Piana and took a fast but safe descent all the way to Cargese where I refuelled. The route turns in land at Sagone, where the toughest stretch of the whole trip started. It was an 18km climb to the top of the Col de Sevi but it was the heat rather than the grade or distance which made it particularly tough. I stopped for some lunch at the Col Saint- Antoine about half way up. After that point there are some very hard stretches at 10%. I had to stop a number of times because I couldn’t see due to the amount I was sweating in the sun. It was a slog.
The last part of the day was another highlight. Having stopped at Evisa for a drink, there is an incredible 14km descent, with spectacular views, all the way back to Porto.
In the evening I ate at La Mer, perched out at the of the harbour, with a great outlook on the climb I had made that morning.
Day 5 – Porto to Corte – 84km – 1808m ascent
The ride started retracing the previous day’s route but this time ascending to Evisa and beyond. Starting at about 8.30 and with more shade on the road, however, the 35km climb to the Col de Vergio was not as difficult as the previous day’s. It’s a magnificent road and ascending it gave more time to appreciate it.
I didn’t see that many cyclists on the trip but this road had a few, including a British party of five, doing the same route that day. I stopped with them at the Col and got a drink before continuing on. The next part of the route descends through a pretty forest before arriving in the village of Calaluccia, overlooking a lake, where I stopped for lunch.
If that wasn’t enough, there is then a descent through a beautiful gorge. I got a puncture on the way down but thankfully was able to sort it out pretty quickly. Rather than taking the N193 to Corte, I left the D84 to join the D18, which is a quiet and scenic road, which takes you all the way there.
Corte, although quite busy with tourists even in June, was lovely to visit. I stayed at U Passo Tempu, which has self catering studios, which were very spacious. The citadelle of the town is very charming. I ate at U Museu, which is in that area and is an attractive place.
Day 6 – Corte to Bastia – 111km – 1446m ascent
I had intended to take the D39 out of Corte and wind my back to Bastia via some very small roads but decided to take a slightly shorter and easier route. I took the N2193 which runs parallel to the main road, which is a peaceful route for the first 10kms. The road rejoins the N193, which wasn’t that busy but has fast traffic. It’s 13kms downhill, so it can be covered quickly enough
With the busy part of the route over, I turned off on to the D71. This a great road, which climbs 750m over 16kms. It was a very quiet stretch, where I saw only a handful of cars. There are some lovely views of the huge chestnut forest that covers this area. The road eventually emerges at Morosaglia, perched at 1000m, with cows and pigs on the road.
I left the D71 for the very badly maintained D205 towards La Porta. It’s steep, with a lot of potholes, so needs some care. Winding through the forest, I felt in the middle of nowhere, before coming to the surprisingly sizeable village of La Porta, with an impressive church, where I stopped for a drink.
The D205 continues in a better state, losing all the height that has been gained earlier on the D71. I then took the D306, the steepest road I had to ride all week. Again it was eerily quiet, passing through just a couple of tiny hilltop villages. 63kms into the ride, the descent to Bastia begins. The D237 is a very easy road to descend, with some lovely views of villages and eventually the east coast. Before reaching the coastal plain, I stopped in Vescovato, a pretty place, and had my last plate, and possibly best charcuterie of the week.
The last 30kms was by far the least scenic of the week. Skirting the airport, I followed the coastal road but there are few views of the sea or lagoon. After 6 days of ups and downs, it also felt odd cycling on the flat all the way back to the Hotel Voyageurs in Bastia.
In the evening, I ate outside at Restaurant Nova, which has very friendly staff, situated in the Place Fontaine Neuve.
Return and Final Thoughts
With the bike boxed the night before, it was a trouble free, if again rather expensive trip by taxi to the airport and return to Manchester.
The trip was I think the best of the 12 European tours I have undertaken. I have had some individual days which have been better but this trip was consistently brilliant. It is a bit of a mystery to me why it isn’t more popular for cycling than it appears. Having ridden in Majorca a few years ago, Corsica seems much superior. I can only put it down to the amount of effort it takes to get there in comparison. For anyone contemplating a trip, I wholeheartedly recommend it.